His Greatness Stemmed From His Passion: Roger Ebert 1942-2013

I struggled all weekend with the idea of writing about Roger Ebert’s death. For one thing, I disdain obituaries. Reading several textbook, pre-written Ebert obits from countless media outlets was truly depressing. Then I came across rogerebert.com Editor Jim Emerson’s piece. Emerson, having known Ebert for nearly 20 years, managed to be personal without being sentimental. It’s a truly poignant and beautiful piece (and not overlong). How could I write anything better? I might as well just provide the link to his piece on my blog (right here) and leave it at that.

But something was nagging at me. Emerson knew Ebert, he was a friend to him. I of course did not, yet I felt like he was an integral part of my life and my journey as a filmmaker. Ebert’s reviews meant so much to my 15-year-old self, who would devour his reviews, then head down to the local video store and grab the beat up VHS copy of The Maltese Falcon & Bonnie & Clyde.

It wasn’t just his writing ability (which was phenomenal) but his passion and genuine love for film as a medium that truly made his words as powerful as they were. There are reviews that he has written that I enjoy as much as the films themselves. That is the passion Ebert brought to his work.

After several days of struggling for the right words, someone better wrote them for me. This morning I stumbled upon James Berardinelli’s piece on Ebert, and this specific segment spoke directly to the heart of what I wanted to say:

Famous people die every day. Most of the time, we pause for a moment to acknowledge their achievements then move on. We don’t know them. We know what they did. With actors, we might recognize their faces and voices, but our memories of them are of the characters they played. With someone like Ebert, however, it’s different. Everything he wrote - reviews, columns, blogs, interviews, tweets, etc. - was personal. He didn’t hide behind an alter ego. So the sense that readers “knew” him wasn’t misplaced. And that’s why his death is felt so keenly by so many - not because he is “greater” or “more famous” than anyone else but because he let us get close. Even to those who never met him, he was a friend and companion.”

I never met Roger Ebert. But to me, he was a friend, and I will miss him.

 

“Most movies are about plot, and chug from one stop to the next. Stephen King, whose book, On Writing, contains a lot of good sense, argues for situation over plot; he suggests that if you do a good job of visualizing your characters, it is best to put them into a situation and see what happens, instead of chaining them to a plot structure. Todd Field and Andre Dubus use the elements of plot, but only on the surface, and the movie’s title refers not to sex but to the secrets, spoken, unspoken and dreamed, that are shared at night when two people close the door after themselves.”
- Roger Ebert 
CTG: The film that changed everything for me as a filmmaker.

Most movies are about plot, and chug from one stop to the next. Stephen King, whose book, On Writing, contains a lot of good sense, argues for situation over plot; he suggests that if you do a good job of visualizing your characters, it is best to put them into a situation and see what happens, instead of chaining them to a plot structure. Todd Field and Andre Dubus use the elements of plot, but only on the surface, and the movie’s title refers not to sex but to the secrets, spoken, unspoken and dreamed, that are shared at night when two people close the door after themselves.”

- Roger Ebert 

CTG: The film that changed everything for me as a filmmaker.

Hey, kids! Anybody here not heard the F-word?
CTG: Sometimes when I read Ebert, I think to myself, why do I bother blogging when there are people out there who do it so much better?

Hey, kids! Anybody here not heard the F-word?

CTG: Sometimes when I read Ebert, I think to myself, why do I bother blogging when there are people out there who do it so much better?

Faithful readers are baffled by my loyal praise for Nicolas Cage. He seems to have been dismissed by the blogosphere as a lost cause, a bat$#!* overactor whose thrashing in some roles threatens to endanger bystanders. I continue to consider Cage a gifted (if uneven) actor, but a movie like Seeking Justice challenges my faith. Here is a story hammered together from discards at the Lunacy Factory. Attempting to find something to praise, I am reduced to this: Cage’s performance is not boring.”

- Roger Ebert

Hollywood has the same problem with the Oscars that the Republicans are having with their primaries. They can’t seem to agree on a candidate with a broad appeal to the base. All nine Oscar finalists were, like Mitt Romney, good enough to be nominated. But none of them appealed to average multiplex moviegoers, just as it’s said Romney doesn’t appeal to the GOP base. — Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert’s latest journal entry is a terrific read if, like me, you’re a huge fan of Contact. Also, if you want to read a Contact dissection by a much less qualified writer, read my Unrecognized & Overlooked entry from back in May.

Roger Ebert’s latest journal entry is a terrific read if, like me, you’re a huge fan of Contact. Also, if you want to read a Contact dissection by a much less qualified writer, read my Unrecognized & Overlooked entry from back in May.

"DeNiro is good here, in a role that perhaps offered some small inspiration. My impression is that he feels he’s paid his dues, and his attention is now involved in his Tribeca activities. He still has his power when he chooses to use it."

- Roger Ebert (from his review of Killer Elite)

CTG: Pretty much sums it up. I was blown away when I saw ‘Stone’ and realized DeNiro never lost it. He just chooses when to flash it. 

I was born inside the movie of my life. The visuals were before me, the audio surrounded me, the plot unfolded inevitably but not necessarily. I don’t remember how I got into the movie, but it continues to entertain me. At first the frames flicker without connection, as they do in Bergman’s Persona after the film breaks and begins again. I am flat on my stomach on the front sidewalk, my eyes an inch from a procession of ants. What these are I do not know. It is the only sidewalk in my life, in front of the only house. I have seen grasshoppers and ladybugs. My uncle Bob extends the business end of a fly swatter toward me, and I grasp it and try to walk toward him.

- Roger Ebert (The opening pages of his memoir, to be published September 13, 2011)

CTG: I am pre-ordering this right now.

Greatness is Tangible: Part I - Time

Brad Pitt & Morgan Freeman in David Fincher’s ‘Seven’

What makes a film great? It’s a question that has been asked ad nauseam. Obviously, subjectivity is the answer. Greatness is of course in the “eye of the beholder.” But what about the eye of said beholder. How does greatness, or lack of greatness, in a film or piece of art change over time to a respective individual? This brings me to today’s entry. Yesterday, Roger Ebert added a new title to his Great Movies section of his website, Seven (1995-David Fincher).

First off, I’m not here to argue whether or not I believe Seven to be a great film, but to venture into the idea of greatness in our own individual minds. Roger’s Great Movies piece on Seven can be found here:

Roger Ebert: Great Movies - Seven (1995)

In the above piece, Roger makes comments such as the following:

"…This grim death sets the tone for David Fincher's “Seven,” one of the darkest and most merciless films ever made in the Hollywood mainstream.”

He continues to place the film in lofty territory with the likes of Silence of the Lambs & The Exorcist . Heavy company, indeed. But what did Roger Ebert think about Seven in 1995, when he first viewed the film? Here is an excerpt from Ebert’s 1995 review:

"…Good as it is, it misses greatness by not quite finding the right way to end. All of the pieces are in place, all of the characters are in position, and then - I think the way the story ends is too easy. Satisfying, perhaps. But not worthy of what has gone before.”

What does this mean? Does it mean Ebert is a hypocrite or a poor film critic? Of course not. It means that our idea of greatness in a film absolutely changes over time. It also means that some films age well, and others do not. People have always asked me why I own so many DVD’s. Most people feel that seeing a film once is enough. They don’t have time to revisit any film, good or bad. This kind of occurrence is the exact reason why we revisit artwork. In 1995, Roger Ebert saw Walker and Fincher’s ending as too pat and clean. Today he found it haunting and absorbing. If he hadn’t revisited the film, he might not have gained that perspective. The opposite of course can apply as well (which is why we always scratch our heads when people mention Ordinary People winning Best Picture over Raging Bull). Time and perspective change everything.

So which films do you want to revisit? Which movies are you looking to give another chance to, or, which films are you prepared to challenge with the test of time?